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[criticsforumarchive] Critics' Forum Article, 4.29.06

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  • [criticsforumarchive] Critics' Forum Article, 4.29.06

    Critics' Forum
    Bogosia n Double-Play
    By Aram Kouyoumdjian

    To describe a play as "talky" seems rather silly; dialogue, after
    all, serves as a foundation for drama. Eric Bogosian's plays,
    however, are "talky." They don't unfold as intricate narratives.
    They don't have much plot. Bogosian is far less interested in what
    his characters have to do than in what they have to say. In fact,
    the need to talk, to rant, to spew words with ferocity often defines
    the figures who populate Bogosian's solo performance works.

    The preoccupation with talk spills over into Bogosian's full-cast
    plays, two of which were revived in recent Los Angeles productions.
    The teens and twenty-somethings of "subUrbia" have little to do but
    talk, as they loiter outside a convenience store. And words are
    tantamount to currency in the aptly-named "Talk Radio."

    By all indications, the brief incarnation of "subUrbia" at the
    Hollywood Fight Club should have been a disaster. The venue itself,
    located in a strip mall, boasts a playing area for which "stage" is
    too strong a word. At the matinee I attended, the sun shining
    through the storefront windows asserted its own "lighting design" on
    a set that could not have cost more than a latte.

    Unexpectedly enough, the show worked. Sort of. Well, it worked as
    much as it could have in the face of such impediments. It worked
    mostly because of a committed cast that generated honest and
    energetic performances to offset some of this middling production's

    The play's minimal plot finds its young suburbanites in front of a 7-
    Eleven, their usual hangout, when a former friend from high school,
    who has found fame as a rock star, returns for a visit. This
    auspicious reunion offers potentially life-altering choices for the
    locals. After all, dreams are still alive for some of them, like
    the aspiring artist Sooze (Stacy Michelle Gold), even if they've
    proven paralyzing for the idealistic Jeff (Beau Hirshfield) or
    disillusioning for the jaded Tim (Jeremy Rodriguez).

    For the most part, Bogosian's script sounds authentic in recreating
    the language of youth (although its slips are all-too-painful to the
    ear). The language of youth, however, is fickle and ever-changing,
    so a number of references in "subUrbia" had been updated for this
    production in order to keep the text, now a dozen years old,

    Fortunately, the script had an ally in director Frank Krueger, who
    achieved a sense of urgency whenever necessary (the "roughhousing"
    among the characters turned quite physical) but knew to allow
    quieter sequences to unfold at the appropriate pace. Still, he
    never missed the play's funnier elements (drawing a hilarious,
    albeit over-the-top, performance from Brad Robinson). One only
    wished he were better equipped with the resources to have production
    values consistent with his vision.

    Crisp production values were on full display in the Gangbusters
    Theatre Company's staging of "Talk Radio," which had a limited run
    at Theatre 68 in Hollywood. This early play from Bogosian's canon,
    virtually devoid of plot, dramatizes an hour from the talk show of
    controversial (and fictional) shock jock Barry Champlain the night
    before his show is to go national. Scenic designer Danny Cistone's
    meticulous replica of a broadcast studio provided the perfect
    setting in which Champlain, winningly portrayed by Christian
    Levatino, would expose his callers' demons while struggling with his

    In a strong ensemble, Jonathan Burbridge stood out as Champlain's
    call screener, perfectly balancing Levatino's intensity with a
    casual portrayal punctuated by both laughs and poignancy. Equally
    worthy of mention was Matt Mann, riotous in his scene-stealing turn
    as a drugged-out fan who finagles his way onto Champlain's show.

    The play, however, belonged to Levatino, who constructed a complex
    character in Champlain, even as he unleashed Bogosian's words with
    all their intended fury. In Levatino's hands, Champlain's rage was
    explosive and profane, his introspection solemn and quiet. One
    could not help being struck by the depth of his performance, which
    revolved, for significant stretches of time, around a microphone.
    But Levatino practically gave life to this inanimate object in
    developing an organic, even visceral, interaction with "callers" who
    never appeared onstage.

    Director Leon Shanglebee confidently helmed the edgy work, managing
    to keep focus where the script meandered. Even in its deviations,
    however, Bogosian's raw, intense, and kinetic writing always
    maintained tension and commanded attention.

    All Rights Reserved: Critics Forum, 2006

    Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting
    ("The Farewells") and directing ("Three Hotels"). His performance
    piece, "Protest," was recently staged at the Finborough Theatre in

    You can reach him or any of the other contributors to Critics' Forum
    at [email protected]. This and all other articles published
    in this series are available online at To
    sign up for a weekly electronic version of new articles, go to Critics' Forum is a group created to
    discuss issues relating to Armenian art and culture in the Diaspora.